By Ericha S. Nix, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
The sights and sounds of a flock of Canada geese often bring to mind a peaceful scene. We enjoy watching them in the spring, tending to their brood, foraging on the banks of our ponds and lakes, or we hear them overhead and watch them fly in a V formation. For some landowners, however, the Canada goose is more a nuisance than an enjoyment.
During the early 1900s, the giant Canada goose (Branta canadensis maxima) was almost driven to extinction. The resident geese in Alabama are of that subspecies. The Canada geese population explosions in areas of North America are attributed to both the successful implementation of wildlife management programs aimed to re-establish this sub-species and its adaptability to a variety of conditions.
Canada geese have greatly benefited and flourished from man’s alterations to the landscape. In Alabama, Canada geese are readily observed year round throughout the state in both rural and urban areas. Most human-goose conflicts are affiliated with urban settings like parks, golf courses and large fields.
The most common complaint about Canada geese comes from landowners and business owners who are frustrated with the bird’s droppings. When geese congregate in large numbers, the accumulation of their droppings can become very unpleasant and, in some instances, a health issue. Other impacts landowners experience include damage to lawns and landscaped areas due to overgrazing, injuries due to attacks from geese defending their nests or by slipping in fecal material. Health concerns can arise when geese congregate in shallow water areas, which could potentially increase bacteria levels via fecal coliform and other pathogens.
Another issue is the increased threat of bird strike encounters with aircraft. This very worrisome and significant issue can cause the loss of human life, damage to aircraft and many hours of down time to aircraft.
Several methods of controlling and/or preventing damage are available. The first step is to stop feeding the geese. Feeding geese -- or any wild animal for that matter -- leads to larger than normal congregations of the species, causes the animals to lose their fear of humans, and can lead to the animal’s having a nutritional imbalance. Aggressive behaviors can be displayed by geese or other animals when they lose their fear of humans due to being fed.
Habitat modifications or lakescaping (landscaping by a lake) can be quite effective in deterring geese from your property. Leaving a 13- to 15-foot-wide unmowed natural vegetative buffer that can reach 24 to 36 inches in height around the shoreline can reduce use of the area by geese. A natural vegetative buffer is comprised of native grasses, forbs and shrubs. The key is to have the buffer wide and tall enough to deter the geese. There are many great added bonuses to having a natural vegetative buffer around your shoreline. These benefits include bank stabilization, pollution reduction and low maintenance once established. This type of area will also provide wildlife habitat and corridors (great for wildlife watchers and wildlife photographers), increase the diversity of the landscape and provide privacy. The goal here is to decrease your lawn’s attractiveness to the geese.
Hunting, where permitted, is a very effective and cost-efficient tool to managing resident goose populations. Hunting offers friends and family the opportunity to engage in an outdoor recreational activity, helps in the control of a nuisance species and provides the opportunity to harvest a valued food source.
Scare devices and sight stimuli are yet other methods used to control nuisance geese. Examples of scare devices are shell crackers, bird bangers, screamers, rockets, bird alarms, motion detector accessories and electronic noise systems. These devices can be cost-efficient if used properly. To be effective, you must use the device as soon as you see geese on your property. Golf courses and property owners have used dogs to chase geese off their properties. This method has been shown to be quite effective; however, it is your responsibility to keep your dog(s) contained to your property. Bird scare balloons, Mylar scare tape and plastic flags are some visual stimulus options. These devices will work great at first, but will become less effective with time as the birds get acclimated to them being in the same place on the property.
Barrier fencing can be constructed to exclude geese from your lawn during their molting season (June-July). For best results, place the fence around the shoreline of your property. Fences should be at least 30 inches high and can be made of a variety of material including plastic and wire.
Several companies sell goose repellants to deter geese. The active ingredient is a non-toxic grape extract. The extract irritates birds’ trigeminal nerves and mucous membranes, causing an unpleasant sensation and they tend to avoid the area being treated. This method can be expensive if applied to a large area and it is only effective for a short time such as before a rain or mowing.
Canada geese are an important wildlife resource as they are valued by both hunters and non-hunters alike. Populations are on the rise mostly due to changes in the landscape by humans. With rising populations also comes an increase in goose-human conflicts. The techniques above should help you to manage these nuisance issues.